Wednesday, August 3, 2011

12 Things I Learned at the Secular Student Alliance Annual Conference

I went to the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) Annual Conference this past weekend and had a great time even though I got very little sleep. I really enjoyed meeting new people and listening to the various speakers. I don’t think I’m going to be able to encapsulate the awesomeness of the weekend in one post, so there will probably be a second one about the weekend. This post will be a fun list of 10 things I learned while at the conference.

#1. Jessica Ahlquist is a smart, strong, and eloquent young women who is going places. I was really impressed by the speech that Jessica made at the SSA conference. JT Eberhard was right to say that when she speaks, people listen. It doesn’t matter that she’s still in high school. She got up on that stage and took the bull by the horns and delivered an incredible, inspirational speech. I’m glad to have had the chance to hear her speak and shake her hand.

#2. Greta Christina is a very terrific speaker in person and does a great job of getting across what she means. I really enjoyed her talk on why we arguing religion is not a waste of time. I thought she made some really good points, and I tend to agree with her. I love arguing and discussing things with people. She is also really easy to talk to. Once I introduced myself, I found myself just flowing into a conversation with her. The conversation wasn’t very long, but I found it very enjoyable. She is also a total badass.

#3. Transfaith is a much better word to describe what is now called Interfaith, and Firebrands don’t necessarily burn bridges by saying what they think. I never liked to term Interfaith because I think it give the inaccurate idea that atheism is a faith when it is nothing of the sort. Ed Clint of the Illini Secular Student Alliance did a great job explaining both of these things, and his talk ended up being my favorite talk of the entire weekend.  I also had a really great conversation with him on Saturday night that covered a lot of topics.  I learned that we're basically on the same page about a lot of things.  Ed also sports a beard which makes him cooler than the guys who don’t have beards. Just sayin’.

#4. Greg and Duncan Henderson are totally cool people. They were featured in the Nick News story “Freedom to Believe... or Not”which was incredibly well done and something that everyone should check out if they have a chance. After meeting them, I had the feeling that I had seen them somewhere before and finally got the courage to ask Greg if they were in the Nick News story. I’m glad I did because it was great to talk with him about it and hear about the experience. I didn’t get to talk with Duncan very much, but I had lunch with his dad Greg and he is such a nice person. I’m definitely going to make the trip down to Auburn to visit them whenever I move back to Georgia.

#5. Jennifer McCreight’s talk on diversity said just about everything that I’ve been thinking and talking about on this topic recently. It’s a topic that needs to broached. She did a fantastic job of explaining why diversity is important. I also love the fact that she said “don’t zerg rush the women” because I’m a huge fan of Starcraft and it brings amusing images to my head. She was also really fun to talk to and rage with at Buffalo Wild Wings on Saturday.

#6. Hemant Mehta has some really good ideas about teaching mathematics. I really liked his ideas about teaching students how to think mathematically instead of just teaching them how to plug and chug numbers. It would give our youth a greater appreciation for math and might make more young people interested in math. Math is important because it really is the language of the universe (thanks Lawrence Krauss). He also talked about how terrible standardized tests are for gauging how well a person understands math which I totally agree with. It is just one more thing that’s wrong with our education system. Hopefully one day someone like Hemant will gain a position of power to help determine the course of American’s education because the people who have been doing it for the last decade have been failing miserably.

#7. Katie Hartman has some good advice for fundraising and is perfectly capable of doing it on one leg. She laid out some very simple but understandably effective tips for helping your groups fundraising efforts. I would have never thought of doing some of the techniques she laid out, but it made so much sense after I thought about it. After talking with her, I have no doubts that Skepticon IV is going to be totally awesome. I really hope that I’m going to be able to go.

#8. President of American Atheists David Silverman is way more optimistic about the future than I think he should be, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. He’s also a pretty good speaker and has a great sense of humor. I really enjoyed the fact that he shamelessly used various iterations of the meme created on reddit from his appearance on O’Reily. I also think his breakdown of the other civil rights movements were flawed, but it was nice to see someone with so much optimism. I also liked that he was willing to listen to other people and take their criticisms even though he disagreed with them. A highlight of Friday night was his reaction to being asked about the terrible design of the American Atheists Scam and Myth billboards. He just kind of hung his head and shame.

#9. During Debbie Goddard’s talk about the The Center For Inquiry (CFI), I learned that the CFI has a library  that contains a great collection of skeptical and freethought books including many rare texts. Since I’m getting my Master’s in Library and Information Science, I was very excited to hear about this. Now I want to make my way up to Amherst, New York to visit the library. I also would like to one day work there in some capacity. I hope that I’m at least able to volunteer or intern there sometime. It has given me a new goal that I hope I can accomplish one day.

#10. Jamila Bey is a riot. I love how loud, opinionated, and proud she is. I really appreciate that she won’t back down from saying things that are considered controversial. I had lunch with her on Saturday, and it was awesome to be able to sit down and have a conversation with her. She said some things that I had never really considered which made me think about some things totally differently.

#11.  The Missouri chapter of American Atheists is in good hands.  The Missouri State Director of American Atheists is a gentleman by the name of Greg Lammers, and I probably talked with him more than anyone not from my group.  He is an awesome guy who was a lot of fun to talk to.  We had some really thoughtful conversations about a variety of topics.  I hope to be able to chat with him again in the future.

#12. There were so many good speakers that gave good advice for secular groups that it would be difficult to name them all. I hope that this year, our group uses this good advice and puts it to action. I’m really excited about being involved in my group in the Fall. I just hope I’m able to sustain this excitement throughout the rest of the summer and into the school year. I would like to thank all the speakers for making it an excellent and informative weekend.

Bonus #13. I need to get a smartphone of some sort so I can make use of Twitter while at conferences like this one. I was very jealous.

It was great hanging out with all my Kent State Freethinkers friends.  My friend Kay has a wonderful blog post about her thoughts on the conference.  You should definitely check it out.